In Edith Wharton’s day, those who had extensive collections of silver flatware patterns, a catalog such as this one, would have been extremely helpful in planning a dinner party.
This film is a visual feast of details with the dining experience playing a major role. From the table settings to the multiple courses, Martin Scorsese has meticulously recreated the lavish displays of Old New York society in the late Victorian era. When comparing Edith Wharton’s text with the film’s visuals, I was unable to identify the porcelain, silver, and crystal. Perhaps someone out there, who has happened to stumble onto this blog, will be able to identify some of the pieces and leave a comment with clues to their identity. Otherwise just enjoy the visuals.
(above) This and the next nine stills are of the dinner the van der Luydens gave for their cousin, the Duke of St. Austrey. (from the novel) “The van der Luydens had done their best to emphasise the importance of the occasion. The du Lac Sèvres and the Trevenna George II plate were out; so was the van der Luyden “Lowestoft” (East India Company) and the Dagonet Crown Derby.”
(above) The salmon is for the second course.
(above) Oysters on ice is the first course. There should be three forks in this scene. You’ll notice why if you study the still following the next one.
(above) Preparing each guest’s plate for the second course.
(above) I would love to know the identity of this porcelain. Perhaps this is the Dagonet [Royal] Crown Derby.
(above) I’m pretty sure that the two seated right in front of the centerpiece are placed far apart so that the audience can have an unobstructed view of this monumental flower arrangement.
(from the novel) “All the ladies had on their handsomest jewels, but it was characteristic of the house and the occasion that these were mostly in rather heavy old-fashioned settings; and old Miss Lanning, who had been persuaded to come, actually wore her mother’s cameos and a Spanish blonde shawl.”
(above) Sherbet was served in between courses to cleanse the palate.
(above) A long viewpoint of the table layout.
(from the novel) “The Countess Olenska was the only young woman at the dinner; yet, as Archer scanned the smooth plump elderly faces between their diamond necklaces and towering ostrich feathers, they struck him as curiously immature compared with hers. It frightened him to think what must have gone to the making of her eyes.”
(above) This still and the following six are of the informal business dinner at Mr. Letterblair’s home. Mr. Letterblair is Archer’s boss.
(from the novel) “Mr. Letterblair was a widower, and they dined alone, copiously and slowly, in a dark shabby room hung with yellowing prints of “The Death of Chatham” and “The Coronation of Napoleon.” On the sideboard, between fluted Sheraton knife-cases, stood a decanter of Haut Brion, and another of the old Lanning port (the gift of a client), which the wastrel Tom Lanning had sold off a year or two before his mysterious and discreditable death in San Francisco—an incident less publicly humiliating to the family than the sale of the cellar.”
(from the novel) “After a velvety oyster soup came shad and cucumbers…”
(above) I love the this table setting. It’s by far my favorite in the film.
(from the novel) “…then a young broiled turkey with corn fritters…”
(above) How can anybody eat so many courses in one seating?
(from the novel) “…followed by a canvas-back with currant jelly and a celery mayonnaise.”
(above) This still and the next two are from Archer’s second visit to Madame Olenska.
(from the novel) “On the bench in the hall lay a sable-lined overcoat, a folded opera hat of dull silk with a gold J. B. on the lining, and a white silk muffler: there was no mistaking the fact that these costly articles were the property of Julius Beaufort.”
(above) A gorgeous puff-embroidered monogram inside the folded opera hat.
(above) This still and the following six are of May and Newland’s wedding gifts.
(from the novel) “A stormy discussion as to whether the wedding presents should be “shown” had darkened the last hours before the wedding; and it seemed inconceivable to Archer that grown-up people should work themselves into a state of agitation over such trifles, and that the matter should have been decided (in the negative) by Mrs. Welland’s saying, with indignant tears: “I should as soon turn the reporters loose in my house.” Yet there was a time when Archer had had definite and rather aggressive opinions on all such problems, and when everything concerning the manners and customs of his little tribe had seemed to him fraught with world-wide significance.”
(above) The exquisite old lace was Ellen Olenska’s gift.
(above) So many expensive wedding gifts given in an era when returns and exchanges had not become a common practice.
(from the novel) “…and her mind rushed away instantly to the magnificent tea and coffee service of Baltimore silver which the Beauforts had sent, and which “went” so perfectly with uncle Lovell Mingott’s trays and side-dishes.”
(above) This porcelain pattern seems so very familiar, but after spending quite a bit of time researching online and in books, I was unable to identify it. It does seem a bit more eccentric and fanciful than what Old New York society would have approved of.
(above) The hand written card reads “Mr. and Mrs. Van der Luyden”. This surprises me because Edith Wharton describes the van der Luydens as staid and colorless.
(above) This still and the following five are from Newland and May Archer’s first formal dinner party as a married couple. Martin Scorsese chose not to show the entire meal, but instead we have skipped to the last course where the fanciful porcelain service we saw in the above photo is being used for dessert.
(above) Dates and candy coated almonds are used to supplement and extend the last course.
(from the novel) “But a big dinner, with a hired chef and two borrowed footmen, with Roman punch, roses from Henderson’s, and menus on gilt-edged cards, was a different affair, and not to be lightly undertaken. As Mrs. Archer remarked, the Roman punch made all the difference; not in itself but by its manifold implications—since it signified either canvas-backs or terrapin, two soups, a hot and a cold sweet, full décolletage with short sleeves, and guests of a proportionate importance.”
(above) I would love to know how the women extracted their hands out of their kid gloves without another person’s help. I’ve worn long kid gloves, but never knew that this was the practice for a formal dinner.
(above) Another shot of the table and its sweets.
(from the novel) “As his glance travelled from one placid well-fed face to another he saw all the harmless-looking people engaged upon May’s canvas-backs as a band of dumb conspirators, and himself and the pale woman on his right as the centre of their conspiracy. And then it came over him, in a vast flash made up of many broken gleams, that to all of them he and Madame Olenska were lovers, lovers in the extreme sense peculiar to “foreign” vocabularies. He guessed himself to have been, for months, the centre of countless silently observing eyes and patiently listening ears, he understood that, by means as yet unknown to him, the separation between himself and the partner of his guilt had been achieved, and that now the whole tribe had rallied about his wife on the tacit assumption that nobody knew anything, or had ever imagined anything, and that the occasion of the entertainment was simply May Archer’s natural desire to take an affectionate leave of her friend and cousin.”
(above) I included this still because of the beautiful bustle detail of her dress. (from the novel) “It was the room in which most of the real things of his life had happened. There his wife, nearly twenty-six years ago, had broken to him, with a blushing circumlocution that would have caused the young women of the new generation to smile, the news that she was to have a child…”